James D. Nogalski, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah (NICOT)

Nogalski, James D. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. xxxv+434 pp. Hb; $54.00   Link to Eerdmans

This new volume of the NICOT series on Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah replaces Leslie Allen’s 1976 volume in the NICOT series (now an Eerdmans Classic Commentary). Nogalski is writing a separate commentary on Micah (scheduled for April 2024). James Nogalski is the W. Marshall & Lulie Craig Professor of Old Testament at Baylor University. He has written extensively on the Minor Prophets, including two Smyth & Helwys Commentaries on the Minor Prophets and two important monographs on the formation of the Book of the Twelve, Literary Precursors to the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 217), Redactional Processes in the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 218), both De Gruyter, 1993. In 2017, SBL Press published The Book of the Twelve and Beyond:  Collected Essays of James D. Nogalski.

Joel, Obadiah, Jonah

Nogalski begins his commentary by briefly introducing his views on how the Book of the Twelve was formed (p. 1-13). “The twelve writings have been edited in various ways in the light of their position and literary function within this larger corpus” (3). You’re used throughout the commentary that the Book of the Twelve was deliberately edited and arranged to be a “canonical entity.” Much of this evidence will appear in the introductions to each of the three Minor Prophets he discusses in this commentary. In this brief introduction, he surveys the scholarship on the Twelve, including his own 1993 monographs in the BZAW series, and responds to some skepticism to his views. He argues that there are important theological implications of the formation of the Book of the Twelve. The sum of the whole is greater than the parts (9). The structure of the Book of the Twelve moves the reader from the eighth century BCE to the Persian period (when the Book of the Twelve reached its final form). Michael Shepherd uses Nogalski’s work for his commentary on the Book of the Twelve in the KEL series (Kregel 2018). See my review here.

This commentary focuses on the final form of each book and how they reached that final form. However, there is no reception history. The commentary focuses on what the speech looked like when it was initially delivered. Was it delivered orally, or was it a written composition? Several times in the body of the commentary, Nogalski refers to the author as a “scribal prophet,” implying that the author gathered material from existing sources and edited them into the book as we have it today. For example, Jonah is set in the eighth century BCE but concerns the post-exilic community.

In the introduction to Joel, Nogalski observes that the background of this book is notoriously difficult to pin down because of the lack of historical context, the lack of specific kings in the first verses, and an awareness of other prophets. He suggests a date in the Persian period, written by a prophet working out of the temple. He surveys models of unity and diversity and observes a strong sense of cohesion even with significant disjunctures (27). Joel was compiled by a “scribal prophet.” Its position in the Book of the Twelve causes it to function as an early voice for understanding the whole scroll. The occasion for Joel is the economic struggles caused by harsh weather conditions in the Persian period. Nothing can be tied to a specific known event.

Joel has a “cause-and-effect” theology of judgment and mercy. Graphic images of locust plagues, drought, and military attacks are drawn from the curse language found in Deuteronomy, especially in Joel 2:1-11. Yet Yahweh promises to remove the curse, the enemy from the north, and the economic devastation. Once again, there will be bountiful harvests (38). By Joel 3, grander changes will occur “in the latter days” when God will pour out his spirit on all flesh. All people will act as prophets, and there will be a complete restoration of Judah and a judgment on the nations.

The day of the Lord can have three senses in the Book of the Twelve. First, it sometimes refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Second, it may refer to Yahweh’s punishment of the nations who have harmed Judah. And third, it may refer to a distant future when Jerusalem will serve as a place of refuge “on that day.”

A significant issue in any commentary on Joel is the writer’s use of other biblical texts. Nogalski offers a short overview of exodus typology, wilderness allusions, and his use of Amos, Zephaniah, Malachi, Obadiah, Hosea, and Isaiah. He argues that a scribal prophet combined speeches into an extended treatise on the day of Yahweh so that the book of Joel dovetails with the Book of the Twelve. He traces connections between Joel and Hosea, Joel and Amos, and other Day of the Lord texts in the Book of the Twelve. Joel, therefore, invites contemplation on God’s character, the nature of judgment and hope, and God’s relationship with his people.

Nogalski’s introduction to Obadiah begins with a sketch of Edom’s history and its role in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction. Despite its brevity, Obadiah may be a collection of prophetic sayings. The book includes verses from Jeremiah 49, and Nogalski examines the structural and rhetorical markers connecting Obadiah 1-5 with Amos 9:1-4. The commentary takes seriously the final form of the text. Although the book may contain material from more than one hand, a scribal prophet combined and edited this material into a unit that thematically parallels Amos 9 (204).

The identity of this scribal prophet is unknown, and the book does not include a king or hometown in verse one. Concerning date, the book could be written as early as the 6th century. Obadiah is an eyewitness of the fall of Edom, so this could extend into the Hellenistic. He argues for a fifth-century BCE date based on the use of Jeremiah. He detects evidence of an advanced stage of Jeremiah’s composition in the sixth century (211). Over there is a prophetic and theological reflection on the fate of Edom 215. By placing Obadiah next to Amos 9, the editor of Book of the Twelve invites attention to the similarities between Israel’s fate and Edom’s.

“The message of Obadiah is not for the faint of heart” (286). The book discusses the judgment of Edom and the violent character of God in the Old Testament. In this, it is much like an imprecatory Psalm. But God’s judgment is followed by restoration. Israel, Edom, and the nations will be restored. But Obadiah’s vision does not come to pass in a literal sense (286). Persia, Greece, and then Rome controlled the region. Although Jerusalem grew during those years, its territory never reached the size described in Obadiah 19-21.

Nogalski begins his introduction to Jonah by observing that this book is much different because it tells a story rather than collects and edits speeches and sayings. The prophet Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, but most consider the story a fiction using the prophet to represent a theological position from the writer’s time. “The story is told with humor and panache,” and the “audience who heard or read this tale would have chuckled” (291). Throughout his commentary, he argues the story has a satirical edge.

For Nogalski, the author lived in the Persian or Hellenistic period and was answering (or ridiculing) theological exclusivity. Could a foreign nation repent? At the time the book was written, foreign nations ruled over Judah. How could Judah’s leaders work under foreign rule? The writer is poking fun at religious leaders who cannot accept divine grace for others even while demanding it for themselves” (293).

A major problem most commentaries on Jonah address is the genre of the book. He surveys several suggestions and points out these suggested genres usually miss the book’s humor (301). If one fails to reckon with the humorous elements of Jonah, then one sees disjunctions as signs of sloppy editing rather than the core elements of the comedic presentation of an author with a keen sense of humor (298).

As with the other prophets in this commentary, Nogalski argues Jonah has been placed in the Book of the Twelve intentionally. Jonah 4:2 is the key verse of the book. He argues that this verse takes up Joel’s citation of Exodus 34:6 (380). He argues the details in an excursus (382-85).

As with other NICOT volumes, Nogalski works through the text of each prophet based on the Hebrew test, although all Hebrew is transliterated, so readers without Hebrew can follow the commentary. His comments are generally on the English text with details in the footnotes. Each unit begins with a new translation with textual notes coveting syntactical elements and textual problems. He then works through a section verse-by-verse. Footnotes interact with secondary literature.

Conclusion. Like other recent new volumes in the NICOT series, Nogalski’s commentary on these three books is a worthy successor to Leslie Allen’s earlier volume. Although thoroughly researched and full of the details one expects in a major commentary, the prose is enjoyable to read and will serve students and scholars well as they study these three Minor Prophets. Whether one is convinced of Nogalski’s view on the overall formation of the Book of the Twelve, this commentary is well worth consulting.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Other Commentaries in the NICOT Series:

Elaine Phillips, Obadiah, Jonah & Micah (AOTC)

Phillips, Elaine. Obadiah, Jonah & Micah. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. London: Apollos, 2022. xxi+393 pp. Hb. $32.99   Link to IVP UK  

Before her recent retirement, Phillips was Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies at Gordon College in Boston. She wrote the Esther commentary in the revised edition of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 2010), The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary on Exodus (Baker, 2015), and An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts (Hendrickson, 2017). Her commentary combines exegesis and a pastoral heart for applying these three minor prophets to the contemporary church.

Phillips, Obadiah, Jonah & MIcah

In the brief general introduction to the commentary, Phillips makes several general observations regarding hermeneutical issues and general principles. Her method is “rigorously critical and unabashedly confessional,” yet maintaining the historical integrity, literary artistry, and theological importance of these books. She is clear, these books are the word of God written to people facing real trauma. They are a word of hope for God’s people.

Regarding method, she begins with a careful translation of the Hebrew text, with an awareness of the features of Hebrew poetry. The introduction summarizes common features of Hebrew poetry (following Kugel, as everyone else does). The general introduction also includes a brief discussion of the Book of the Twelve. Was there an intentional shaping of the twelve minor prophets? Was there a final redaction? For example, Obadiah 1-14 may be a commentary on Joel 4:19 [ET 3:19]; Obadiah 15-21 may be a commentary on Amos 9:12 (as initially suggested by Wolff in his Hermeneia commentary). Phillips suggests several reasons for the arrangement of Obadiah-Jonah-Micah. She concludes, “The three perspectives jostle against each other, echoing a turbulent century in geopolitics” (8). She suggests some caution since the Masoretic text order differs from the Septuagint, and even at Qumran, the order of the minor prophets is still fluid.

In the fourteen-page introduction to Obadiah, Phillips discusses the history of the troubled relationship between Israel and Edom in the Hebrew Bible, followed by a geopolitical discussion of Edom in history and archaeology, up to the Nabataean takeover of Bozrah in 312 BC. She discusses several literary considerations, such as structure unity, prophetical rhetoric, and vivid descriptions found in this short prophetic book.

When did Obadiah speak? And is that different from the written book? Readers would be literate and competent to appreciate echoes of authoritative texts, such as Leviticus 26:31-45 or Deuteronomy 32:7-9. She also suggests Obadiah makes use of Ezekiel. It is well-known Obadiah uses Jeremiah 49, although it is possible both passages look back derived from an earlier source. She cites favorably Daniel Block’s suggestion that Obadiah refined Jeremiah 49 but does not come to a definitive conclusion.

There are three possible historical contexts for Obadiah. First, some suggest Obadiah reflects the second half of the ninth century and Joram’s conflict with Edom (2 Kings 8:20-22). Second, the book may come after the Syrian-Ephraimite war under Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:16-21). Third, the widely held view (reflected in this commentary) is Obadiah was written after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, even though the book does not specifically mention Babylon or Nebuchadnezzar. Regardless of the date, the defining principle of Yahweh’s justice is lex talonis, a judgment is appropriate to the crime (25). Yahweh will repay Edom for her deeds.

In her introduction to Jonah, she asserts Jonah is the authoritative word of God, but this does not mean only one hermeneutical approach. She assumes a doctrine of inspiration and revelation but also develops the literary artistry of the book. She rejects the skepticism of the nineteenth century, which questioned whether the book had any historical value. The ancient Near Eastern world accepted divine intervention as described in the book of Jonah. “We must allow Jonah to reflect the volatility of emotion that is human and not subject him to scrutiny as ‘a failed prophet of Yahweh’… in sum, I offer a sympathetic reading of Jonah” (69).

The historical context for Jonah is 2 Kings 14:23-27. This puts the historical context of the story in the court of Samaria. She, therefore, reviews the geopolitics of the ninth and early eighth century in both Israel and Assyria. Even if this is the historical context, the book could have been written any time before 200 BC since Sirach mentions Jonah. Phillips reflects briefly on possible compositional contexts. If the book was written early, how does this help our interpretation?

The introduction also describes the literary artistry of the author. This includes macrostructures, narrative features, and poetry, especially the Psalm of Thanksgiving in Jonah 2. She also traces intertextual considerations, such as connections with 2 Kings 14:23-27, but also to Genesis (the doom of Nineveh echoes the doom of Sodom), echoes of the Elijah narrative (who also fled to Phoenicia), as well as the character of Yahweh from Exodus 34:6-7).

Any commentary on Jonah must struggle with the genre of the book. Is Jonah a satire? Parody? Midrash? Legend? Novella? Tragedy? Didactic fiction? Allegory? Parable? All these have been suggested, but she observes the favored fallback alternative to Jonah being a historical narrative is that it is a parable. This avoids fuzzy categories like allegory or the negative connotations of fiction. A Hebrew mashal has a much wider range of connotations than a New Testament parable. She raises the common objection that if Jesus alludes to the story of Jonah, it cannot be a parable. Although many scholars do not think Jesus’s point suffers if Jonah is a fictional story or a parable, Phillips disagrees. She argues this does not fit with a proper understanding of a sign. She defines a “sign” as “divine interventions in a given historical context” so that “the forthcoming event is equally lodged in history” (83). If this is the case, then Jonah cannot be fictional, whether it is a parable or not. Since the story’s details fit the eighth century BC, this does not suggest the story is a parable constructed much later to make a theological point. Phillips concludes for Jesus, and centuries of interpreters, Jonah is a historical figure. With respect to the purpose of Jonah, scholars have suggested the book is a polemic against Jewish exclusivism, a commentary on the prophetic role, relationship with Yahweh (whether Jonah’s or Israel’s), or a commentary on God’s justice and mercy.

Introduction to Micah surveys historical, rhetorical, literary, and theological factors that are interwoven into this sometimes overlooked minor prophet. Phillips says her reading of Micah was affected by a course of study she took in Israel. For this reason, geographical considerations of the western foothills of the Shephelah are important for her reading of Micah. She sets Micah into the context of the late eighth century BC, during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, and tracks the Assyrian aggression under Sennacherib in 701 BC. An editor brought together well over a dozen units that alternate between judgment and hope (183). But when were the oracles spoken and compiled? From a conservative perspective, Micah is responsible for all the discourse units, and she refers readers to Waltke’s 2007 commentary for a summary of scholarly views on date and authorship. Regarding the literary relationship between Isaiah 2:2-5 and Micah 4:1-5, she argues the verses fit well into an eighth-century BC context, so they are unlikely to be a later insertion. Phillips concludes the verses are “more at home in Micah” (187).

Phillips divides the body of the commentary into several sections. She begins with a new translation of the section, accompanied by notes on the text. These notes compare the Masoretic text to variants found in the Septuagint, Targums, Syriac, and Latin Vulgate. For a book like Micah, there are often significant variants. She also includes Qumran manuscripts where available. Technical terms appearing in the glossary are printed in bold.

Following the translation, the commentary proceeds verse by verse. Phillips’s exegesis is on the Hebrew text, and she often refers to Hebrew grammar and syntax. Readers who have not had Hebrew may struggle with this, but since all Hebrew appears in transliteration, this is not overwhelming. All secondary literature is cited with in-text citations; there are no footnotes. The commentary interprets the Hebrew text in the historical and literary context of the eighth century BC and includes references to historical figures and the literary features of the Hebrew text.

Following the commentary, Phillips offers a section entitled Explanation. These are brief summaries, often setting the pericope into a canonical context. For example, commenting on Jonah 2, she suggests Jonah experienced a “baptism in the sea,” and she cites 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 where Paul develops a similar typology. She also suggests a canonical connection between the three days in Jonah and the resurrection. Commenting on Micah 3, she looks back to the appointment of elders in Exodus 18:13-17 and draws attention to several texts in both the law and prophets, calling on judges to be fair and just. She points out other occurrences of the cooking metaphor in Micah three, such as Ezekiel 11:27-11. She includes some contemporary comments. On the violent metaphors describing injustice in Micah 3, she concludes, “lest we think our sophisticated culture is far advanced beyond such things, we must pause… our hermeneutical compass may need to be adjusted to face our own contemporary realities” (251).

Conclusion. Phillips’ work on Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah is a solid exegetical commentary written from a conservative perspective. Her commitment to reading these books as the word of God to God’s people is clear throughout the commentary, and often, her pastor’s heart shows through in her comments. This is an excellent, readable exegesis of the Hebrew text and will be of great value for pastors and teachers as they study these important prophetic books.

Other Reviewed Commentaries in this series:

NB: Thanks to Apollos for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Michael B. Shepherd, A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve (Kregel Exegetical Library)

Shepherd, Michael B. A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve. Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2018. 523 pp. Hb; $44.99.   Link to Kregel Academic

Michael Shepherd is an associate professor of biblical studies at Cedarville University. He has previously published several articles and monographs, including Daniel in the Context of the Hebrew Bible (Peter Lang, 2009) and The Twelve Prophets in the New Testament (Peter Lang, 2011).

Shepherd, exegetical commentary on the Book of the TwelveThe introduction to this to this volume of the Kregel exegetical commentary series presents an argument for the unity of the Book of the Twelve, which is the motivation for the whole commentary. Shepherd previously published an article on the “Compositional Analysis of the Twelve” (ZAW 120 (2008): 184–193). He acknowledges the work of Paul House, The Unity of the Twelve (Sheffield: Almond, 1990), and two monographs by James D. Nogalski, Literary Precursors to the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 217; de Gruyter, 1993) and Redactional Processes in the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 218; de Gruyter, 1993) and his Smyth & Helwys commentary on the Book of the Twelve.

What sets Shepherd’s approach to the Book of the Twelve apart from other similar studies is that he is not interested in the redaction of the twelve minor prophets, but the compositional strategy of a single author drawing together various prophetic books into a single Book of the Twelve. He never refers to this person as an editor; for Shepherd, he is an author or a composer. The best analogy for his approach to the Book of the Twelve is the Book of Psalms. The book is a collection of individual psalms, but it clearly has an overall literary unity with clear theological themes connecting the parts, including superscriptions and seams.

Besides an analogy to the book of Psalms, Shepherd points to Sirach 49:10 as the earliest reference to the twelve minor prophets as a unit. Acts 13:40 and 15:15 also cite texts from minor prophets as simply “the prophets.” All early Jewish and Christian canonical lists count the Twelve as one book. Perhaps most compelling, the Masoretic text does not mark the center verse in the minor prophets, but one appears in Micah 3:12 as the middle verse of the Book of the Twelve.

Because of his interest in the unity of the Book of the Twelve, he is not interested in biographical details or the lives of the prophets. He makes no attempt to reconstruct the ministry of any individual prophet, and he does not spend much time at all setting the prophet into a particular historical context. For Shepherd, it is not a matter of a book’s historicity, but of the book’s “unique and revelatory depiction of things.”

For Shepherd, Hosea 3:4-5 is a programmatic statement for the entire Book of the Twelve: “For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward,  the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” He identifies two themes: God’s judgment of Israel and future messianic salvation. He argues Israel cannot be restricted to just the northern Kingdom in Hosea 3:4-5. Only the original Israel was united under their “Lord and God” and “David their king.” he considers this verse to be dependent on Jeremiah 30: 8-9 (23). This is intriguing, but there are differences. For example, Hosea anticipates Israel will “return and seek the Lord” (יָשֻׁ֙בוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּבִקְשׁוּ֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֔ם) whereas Jeremiah has “serve the Lord” (וְעָ֣בְד֔וּ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶ֑ם). The two verses use distinctly different verbs, although the phrase “the Lord their God and David their king” is the same. Even in English, this is not a quotation. I would be happier if he employed language like “this alludes to Jeremiah.” usually studies of intertextuality would question the direction of the illusion. Perhaps Hosea used Jeremiah, or Jeremiah used Hosea depending on when the books were written. Shepherd does not discuss these issues because it doesn’t matter. The author of the Book of the Twelve composed the book after all the prophetic books were written. It doesn’t matter whether Hosea predates Jeremiah because the author of the Book of the Twelve had all of this material available to him and he inserted the programmatic verse into Hosea 3:4-5.

Another question I have about this programmatic verse is its placement of three chapters in the Book of the Twelve. For Shepherd, the eschatological context of Hosea 3 created the “perfect opportunity for the composer” to introduce his program from Jeremiah 30:9. Hosea 3:4-5 looks beyond any return of the northern Kingdom of Israel from Assyria or even the return of Judah from Babylon. For Shepherd, the verse looks forward to the restoration of Israel’s lost blessings in the land at a future time when the people will seek both the Lord and David as their king. This cannot be historical David or a resurrected David, but a Davidic king who will build the temple and reign over an everlasting kingdom (53).

Shepherd suggests three criteria for identifying the activity of the final composer of the Book the Twelve. First, he identifies seams that connect the end of one book to the next. Second, in these seams he finds the development of a programmatic text for the Book of the Twelve, Hosea 3: 4-5. Third, when the first two criteria are both present, there is some evidence of dependence on the book of Jeremiah. Shepherd provides a list of each of the seams with a brief demonstration using the three criteria (34-36, with additional details in the exegetical commentary). Several examples will suffice for this review.

First, at the end of Joel, the “Lord dwells in Zion” (Joel 3:16 ET) and Amos begins with “the Lord roars from Zion” (Amos 1:2). Shepherd then suggests this seam alludes to Jeremiah 25:30, “The Lord roars from on high.” In addition, Jeremiah 25:15-26 is a judgment oracle on the nations (including Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Moab, and Ammon, five of the six nations mentioned in Amos 1:3-2:3).

Second, Amos 9:11-15 describes the restoration of the fallen tent of David. The future remnant will “possess Edom” (9:12). The book of Obadiah is entirely concerned with judgment on Edom. Amos’s restoration of the tent of David picks up on the programmatic statement from Hosea and includes both judgment and (future) salvation. Obadiah itself relies heavily on Jeremiah 49:7-22. This is a well-known literary dependence; Obadiah has a longer version, suggesting “the direction of dependence was from Jeremiah to Obadiah” (28). This means Amos 9:11-15 was added by the final author of the Book of the Twelve in order to connect the end of Amos to the beginning of Obadiah and to underscore his theology of judgment and future restoration. Shepherd says Amos 9:11-15 is “a prophecy of restoration unparalleled anywhere in the book of Amos” (200), and the phrase “restore the fortunes” is common in Jeremiah 29:14; 30:3; 31:23; 32:34; 33:7 (201).

One place where Shepherd’s theory for the unity of the twelve minor prophets may be helpful is an explanation of the origins of Zechariah 9-11, 12-14, and the book of Malachi. As is well known, each of these sections begins with the phrase “The oracle (מַשָּׂא) of the word of the Lord.” scholars often suggest that these three units circulated separately and were edited into the Book of the Twelve at a later date. Shepherd himself says “The book of Malachi is the third section to Zechariah 9-11 and Zechariah 12-14” (480).

The body of the exegetical commentary shows his method throughout. Since he is interested in the final form of the Book of the Twelve, there is no formal introduction for each book. There is no effort to set the book into an original historical context or offer any sort of “life of the prophet.” Each book is broken into individual units, usually full chapters. Sections begin with a new translation, with alternative translations in brackets citing the Targumim, Septuagint, Syriac, and Dead Sea Scrolls. Additional footnotes discuss syntactical or lexical issues. Shepherd’s exegetical commentary is a clear explanation of the Hebrew text, with no transliteration. Footnotes point to secondary literature and additional lexical or syntactical issues. Although this is a single volume on all twelve minor prophets, Shepherd’s exegesis is detailed. Occasionally, his commentary on individual books ends with a conclusion, or a section entitled “teaching and preaching” the book.

The final pages of the commentary are entitled “final thoughts on Teaching and Preaching the Twelve.” As expected, he recommends that anyone preaching or teaching a series on the Book of the Twelve should focus on the compositional strategy of the entire twelve minor prophets. He observes “arbitrary obsession with the application has become so out of hand that all the genres of the Bible have been flattened into one: that of a manual or a handbook for life” (512). He suggests “the drive to make scripture practical causes the reader to miss the vision of the book of the Twelve for Christ in his Kingdom Rather than giving our church is the full tour of the biblical text” (512).

Conclusion. Most scholars who study the minor prophets will be interested in Shepherd’s method for detecting seams between the books and his argument for the unity of the Book of the Twelve. Although I expressed some questions and reservations above, his argument for a final author who drew the twelve minor prophets together is intriguing and convincing, although I am more inclined to use the word “editor.” Since Shepherd covers all twelve minor prophets in a single volume, the depth of this exegetical commentary should not be compared with recent NICOT commentaries (for example, Mark Boda’s 935 pages on Zechariah or Mignon Jacobs’s 377 pages on Haggai and Malachi). But this Kregel Exegetical Commentary is more detailed than the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (for example, Daniel Timmer’s 229 pages on Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah).


Other Commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:

Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.






S. D. Snyman, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (TOTC)

Snyman, S. D. Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xxii+139 pp. Pb. $20.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the original 120-page volume by David W. Baker, originally published in 1988. S. D. Snyman is research associate in Old and New Testament studies at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He previously contributed a commentary on Malachi in the HCOT series (Peeters, 2014).

Snyman, Nahum, Habakkuk, ZephaniahThe commentary has a brief general introduction to the prophets. Since these prophets were well acquainted with the political world beyond Judah, the reader must be informed about the world situation and the internal politics and cultural practices in Judah. Although much of the prophecy in these three short books concerns the future doom of the nations, they are theological and part of the overall canon of scripture. Despite this observation, Snyman does not connect these three books intra-canonically, and he has little to say on how these three obscure prophets contribute to the overall canon. The major exception is a brief note on Habakkuk 2:4 in the New Testament.

Nahum (thirty-nine pages) is all about bloodthirsty revenge on the Assyrian Empire and the fall of Nineveh. He suggests a range of dates after 663 B. C. and before the fall of Thebes in 612 B.C. based on Nahum 3:8-10. Snyman sets the historical context from Tiglath-Pilesar III through the reign of the Judean king Manasseh. He suggests the book has a high literary quality and only briefly deals with occasional challenges to the unity of the book. With respect to theology, Nahum presents a God who is a God of justice, manifest in wrath and vengeance. Snyman suggests the book is written for the individual who is on the brink of losing hope in the midst of violence and oppression.

The style of Habakkuk (forty-six pages of commentary) suggests a liturgical setting. Nothing is known about the prophet, although there is a legend Habakkuk was the son of the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4:16) or Isaiah’s watchman (Isa 21:6, cf., Hab 2:1). Habakkuk is also mentioned in the apocryphal story of Daniel, Bel and the Dragon. As Snyman comments, “none of these have historical value” (46). He dates the book to the rise of Babylon and the first deportation of Judeans, between 605 and 597 B.C. He only briefly mentions Bernhard Duhm’s fourth century B.C. dating based on the Chaldeans as the Kittim. Although chapter 3 is a different genre than the first two, Snyman does not see any evidence for multiple sources. If a later editor added the poem in chapter three from another source, it was “skillfully done” and the book is still a literary unit with a “climax of a confession of faith and a renewed trust in God” (49).

Regarding the theology of Habakkuk, the book does indeed address theodicy, the question of why God permits evil. Habakkuk receives a complicated answer. First, humans are incapable of understanding God’s way of handling world affairs. Second, the righteous must “keep faith.” Although there is a promise the wicked will not endure, this may not be a satisfying answer for a contemporary reader.

Snyman dates Zephaniah (forty-six pages of commentary) to the reign of Josiah, 639-609 B.C. He sketches that history and attempts to narrow the date further by pointing to Zephaniah 1:8 (the royal household wears foreign clothes). There is no reference to Josiah’s reforms in the book, so “it might even be the case that Zephaniah’s prophecies prompted Josiah to begin his reforms even before the discovery of the book of the Law” (95).

For Snyman, Zephaniah is “thoroughly theological in nature” (96). The book presents the Lord as the God of creation who is about to destroy the earth because of the sins of Judah and Jerusalem. Judah is indifferent to God, and Zephaniah accuses Judah of idolatry and worshiping the Lord in inappropriate ways. God will execute his judgment on the “day of the Lord,” the most important theme in Zephaniah. In this case, the Day of the Lord refers to the soon destruction of Jerusalem. Yet in all of this, there is a glimmer of hope because the Lord is also the God of Salvation. In the final section of the book, the Lord declares his love for his people and promises to gather them and deal with all their oppressors (3:14-20).

Like other Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, the body of the commentary focuses on the English text, only rarely referring to the Hebrew text (in transliteration). All secondary sources are cited in-text and there are no footnotes. Nevertheless, Snyman’s commentary is a model of careful exegesis and analysis of the text presented in clear prose which illuminates the text of these three obscure prophets for both profession and laypersons.


Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:


NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.



Robin L. Routledge, Hosea (TOTC)

Routledge, Robin L. Hosea. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. xxxiii+181 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the 1989 volume by David Allan Hubbard. Routledge previously published Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (IVP Academic 2012) as well as several articles on the prophets.

Routledge, HoseaThe thirty-six-page introduction dates Hosea to 750-725 B.C., making Hosea a later contemporary to Amos. This implies the book was completed before Josiah’s reforms, and therefore is not part of the so-called Deuteronomistic redaction. In fact, Routledge suggests Hosea may have influenced Deuteronomistic movement in the late seventh century.

The immediate context for the book is the resurgence of the Assyrian Empire under Tiglath-Pilesar III, but also the syncretic worship in the northern kingdom Israel. Routledge includes a few pages outlining what can be known about Baal worship from Ugarit and other sources. Although this worship may have involved cult prostitution, it did not necessarily include the idea of hieros gamos, “sacred marriage.” The problem is Hosea is Israel’s syncretic worship which confused Yahweh and Baal.

The introduction sets Hosea in the larger context of the Old Testament. Although Routledge does not find arguments for a unifying redaction of the Book of the Twelve convincing, that Hosea is the first book of the collection may be significant. The book is clear: Israel’s unfaithfulness will result in punishment, but unfaithfulness will not ultimately affect Yahweh’s love for Israel. The book hopes for a final restoration in the future. This exile/restoration theme resonates throughout the Book of the Twelve. He also traces connections between Hosea, Deuteronomy, and Jeremiah (suggesting Jeremiah may have made use of Hosea). He briefly discusses several theories of composition, but it ultimately favors the unity of the book. Routledge finds it “unnecessary to accept the view that the book was compiled even later, for a posting exilic Judah during the Persian” (p. 19; contra Ben Zvi).

In the preface to the commentary, he observed that the book of Hosea is challenging for the commentator because it includes some of the most difficult Hebrew in the Old Testament. It often differs from the Septuagint, leading to suggestions that Masoretic text is corrupt. On the other hand, Routledge thinks Hosea’s peculiar dialect was unfamiliar to the Septuagint translators, resulting in more unusual translations than other books. The poetry in Hosea is not conventional and it makes a great deal of use of similes, metaphors, and wordplay. In addition, the judgment speeches form a judicial framework which may have been unfamiliar to translators.

With respect to the theology of the book, Routledge highlights Israel’s sin, their impending judgment, and their ultimate hope. The people no longer know the Lord (4:1), so their worship and sacrifices are unacceptable. They are stubborn like an unruly animal (4:16). But the Lord is unwilling to utterly destroy Israel, so the book is filled with a message of hope for a restoration of the broken relationship (11:10-11).

Hosea is the first prophet to make an explicit connection between the covenant and marriage, idolatry and adultery. Routledge argues Gomer is a promiscuous woman (rather than a prostitute) and was faithful at the beginning of the marriage. This better fits the prophetic view that the relationship between the Lord and Israel began well. He also thinks the woman in 3:1 is Gomer, so that chapter three is a restoration of the marriage to its original state. He also briefly deals with criticism of Hosea’s marriage metaphor which describe it as “patriarchal gender stereotyping,” misogynistic, as advocating sexual violence and humiliation toward women, and even as pornographic. He admits it is patriarchal (as the whole ancient Near East was patriarchal), but it goes too far to call the marriage metaphor misogynistic since it was intended to describe Yahweh’s relationship with Israel. The marriage metaphor emphasizes God’s sovereignty and the consequences for sin, but also divine love and vulnerability. Routledge covered this material in his article, “Hosea’s Marriage Reconsidered” (Tyndale Bulletin 69 (2018): 25–42).

A third theological issue in Hosea is the idea of hesed, which is mentioned in Hosea more than any other prophetic book. In the rest of the Old Testament, hesed is a divine attribute, but in Hosea it most often relates to human conduct (p. 32). Israel has been unfaithful to the covenant and mistreated those need hesed. In this section Routledge distills his much more detailed article, “Ḥesed as Obligation: A Re-Examination” (Tyndale Bulletin 46 (1995): 179–96).

The body of the commentary covers the fourteen chapters of Hosea in 144 pages. The book is divided into major sections (1-3; 4-11; 12-14) and shorter pericopes. Commentary units begin with a short setting the context, then a running commentary covering a few verses per paragraph. The commentary is based on the English text and often compares major translations, but Routledge comments on Hebrew (appearing in transliteration). Commentaries and other secondary literature are cited intext, footnotes are used for additional discussion or cross references. The commentary is concise and clear. The final section of each section is entitled “meaning” and provides a summary and theological comment on the section. These comments occasionally touch on biblical theology and Christian significance, but Routledge is more focused on the theology of Hosea.

Conclusion. Like other newer volumes of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Routledge’s commentary on Hosea is clear and concise, shedding light on the text of Scripture for the pastor, teacher or student preparing to present Hosea to their congregations. It is not overly distracted with critical issues or syntactical minutia, yet Routledge demonstrates mastery both critical issues and the Hebrew text in order to focus on what Hosea says.


Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:


NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.